CHICKASHA – Coach Mike Ross shoots for the same thing each season: A coveted spot in the NAIA National Tournament.

“My goal is always to make it to the (NAIA) National Tournament. There, anything can happen,” Ross said. “You have to take care of business February through April to make sure you get into the conference tournament and hopefully, the national tournament.”

And Ross may have stacked the right combination to do just that. Between 2010 returning starters and some hitters coming in, Ross expects the Drovers to be strong at the plate.

Three of USAO’s best hitters from last season, Cody Bridgman, Conner Bridgman and Regulo Moy, are back for their senior seasons and are expected to fill the middle of the lineup.

Moy led the team last season with a .413 average. He hit 11 doubles, a triple and five home runs for the season. He also had 43 RBI.
Cody Bridgman scored 37 runs for USAO, including eight home runs. He was second on the team in RBI with 45, and he batted .346.

Leading the team in home runs in 2010 was Conner Bridgman, who batted .363. He hit 11 home runs and scored 37 runs.

“And then there’s great leadership coming from the other seniors: Jake Dunbar, Andrew Reyes, Vince Linke, Garan Qualls and Kenny Young,” Ross said.

Ross expects newcomer Romus Cezar, junior outfielder from Rose State College, to lead off the lineup all season and Brandon Jewett, also a junior outfielder, will serve as another key component to the Drovers strong lineup.

“A strength for us is that we can put different lineups on the field and not see a drop off,” Ross said. “We’re a little bit deeper this year.”

On the mound, Ross and the Drovers will rely on senior Caleb Martin, who comes in first in school history in starts coming into the season. The four-year starter is three wins away from taking the school record in most wins. He has a career ERA of 6.19.

Besides Martin, Ross said most of the pitchers are new this season and that lack of experience will be something the Drovers have to push through.

But Ross is sure not to forget another key component to the 2011 Drover season: second-year assistant Matt Hibbitts.

“Coach Hibbitts has done a good job every day getting these guys ready to go,” Ross said. “He does a whole lot with them that sometimes goes unnoticed. Anything that’s accomplished could not be done without his help.”

Over the last few weeks, Ross and Hibbitts have been trying to get the guys outside to practice as often as weather and classes allow. With the season beginning at the end of January, they are focusing on fundamentals and the little nuances of baseball.

“We’re just trying to prepare them for what they might see when they go play,” he said. “I think we have more speed than we had last year, which is going to be key.”

Throughout practices and games, Ross said his expectations of the players and the team as a whole remains simple and unchanged.

“My expectations for them never change from year to year. I expect them to play hard, compete every pitch of the game. That’s really my expectations. I don’t put expectations on winning or losing,” Ross said. “Baseball comes down to who executes and who doesn’t.”

Ross said the 2011 team has so far fulfilled his requests with a strong work ethic and excitement about the upcoming season.

“A difference from last year’s team, I would say, I like this team’s work ethic,” he said. “I think they’re confident going into the season, but they know there’s a long way to go.”

The Drovers kick off the season at Texas College on Jan. 28 and 29. They play their first home game, a doubleheader, starting at 1 p.m. Feb. 4 at Bill Smith Ballpark.

Published: Jan. 24, 2011